The National Energy Board (NEB) has given NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd. until June 10, 2017 to begin construction on the $1.7 billion North Montney Pipeline project in northeast British Columbia.

However, the one-year extension to the sunset clause still must be approved by the federal cabinet.

The North Montney project would tie into the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Pipeline designed to ship natural gas to the Pacific NorthWest LNG plant in Prince Rupert, proposed by Progress Energy Canada Ltd.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is to complete its environmental review of the project by the end of this month and Progress then will decide on a final investment decision.

In seeking the extension, NGTL said that it would not be in a position to begin construction of the pipeline until PECL decides whether to proceed with the Pacific NorthWest LNG project.

In a letter to the proponents, the NEB said that the project is still in the public interest and that the original conditions attached to the project will require that it be designed, constructed and operated in a way that is safe and protects the environment.

Three First Nations — Saulteau, Blueberry River and West Moberly — had expressed concern about the project routing and its impacts on their Aboriginal interests with the Saulteau asking the board to direct NGTL to use any extension granted to carry out further investigations into alternate routes and wildlife mitigation measures.

However, in its letter of decision, the NEB noted that all parties, including the three First Nations, have had a significant amount of time to develop the mitigation measures contained in the Peace Moberly Tract Protection Plan— more time than was originally anticipated in the proceeding.

The board said it was satisfied that NGTL has described and committed to implement sufficient measures to address the project’s environmental and socio-economic effects, including its potential effects on Aboriginal traditional use. It concluded using any additional time through an extension to the sunset clause to undertake further studies for the development of further mitigation measures is not necessary.

The NEB also said that in its view, the project route was thoroughly assessed and considered by the board during the GH-001-2014 proceeding, and that no new evidence has been submitted to materially change its conclusions regarding the appropriateness of the project route or its potential environmental or socio-economic effects.

The 301-kilometre North Montney Pipeline and related facilities would connect NGTL's Groundbirch Mainline to the North Montney gas fields, transporting up to 2.4 bcf of gas per day.

Last year, an NEB report recommended that the project be approved, subject to 45 conditions, including the sunset clause (DOB, April 16, 2015).